English rugby is now in exhibition mode until the weekend of May 13-14 when there will be a sudden, brief outbreak of meaningful fixtures again.
The play-off places have been decided and there is no jeopardy at the bottom of the Premiership, so when the final round of regular-season games kick off simultaneously on May 6, there will be next to nothing riding on them.
Late last month, Steve Diamond hit the nail on the head when he said: ‘The worst thing that’s happened in the Premiership is no relegation. When there’s relegation, the crowds go through the roof at the bottom clubs. Now, they’re just dead-rubber games. Nobody’s interested in seeing them.’
While he was speaking in his new guise as a consultant at Edinburgh, Diamond has been through his fair share of survival battles over the years, so he knows how they generate tension and interest.
Now, however, there is no relegation from the top division and no realistic sign of that system returning any time soon.
Newcastle were battered by Northampton but are safe anyway without the threat of relegation
Former Worcester head coach Steve Diamond, who is for relegation in the Premiership, insisted that fans don’t care about ‘dead-rubber’ matches at the bottom of the league anymore
On Friday night, Newcastle shipped 10 tries at home to Northampton in an abject 66-5 defeat, safe in the knowledge that their status is not under threat — at least not on the field. Without anything meaningful to fight for, they capitulated.
Rumours have been circulating that the Falcons have been cutting their budget in readiness for the possibility of being voluntarily consigned to the second tier if the Premiership is reduced from 11 to 10 clubs. While the rumours have been denied, they have not gone away.
Another telling weekend episode was Jersey beating Championship title rivals Ealing Trailfinders to all but clinch top spot, without any prospect of promotion.
They had not even ‘applied’ for the chance to go up, knowing they would not satisfy the contentious minimum standards criteria for entry into the Premiership’s cosy clique.
Championship officials fear that they are being left to wither through a policy of reduced central funding and barriers to any ambitious club such as Ealing.
Meanwhile, there has been a long period of silence in relation to the presence of Wasps in the Championship next season — supposedly as tenants at Sixways, where Worcester will no longer exist as the proposed Atlas group takeover is thought to be in danger of collapse.
What a mess. It is almost May and there is a worrying lack of clarity about the immediate future in the upper reaches of the domestic game, as all concerned await guidance about a new structure.
If Wasps and possibly even Worcester are going to feature, a hell of a lot will have to happen in a very short space of time, given the absence of personnel or plans.
There has been a long period of silence over the future of Wasps playing in the Championship
Meanwhile, the Premiership is providing jolly entertainment without enough high-stakes intensity, as was the case on Saturday at Twickenham — where Bath and Harlequins laid on a show that counted for very little.
The contrast with French rugby continues to be glaring and alarming. Brive, Perpignan and Pau are among those scrambling to stay in the Top 14 league, knowing one club will go down automatically and another will face a play-off against the runners-up in Pro D2.
Bath played out an entertaining Twickenham clash with Harlequins over the weekend
Both sides played out a show at the home of England rugby but it meant for very little
While Oyonnax have run away with the second-tier title, five teams — Grenoble, Mont-de-Marsan, Nevers, Agen and Vannes — are still in the play-off hunt.
When Grenoble hosted local rivals Oyonnax in a recent ‘Alps derby’, the game drew a crowd of 18,543.
That attendance symbolises professional development and expansion. In France, there is jeopardy, clarity and prosperity.
Here, the sport is trapped in a fog and fading in front of our eyes.